Today we begin our look at the HD&D skills system. I’m going to present this over three posts. Today, it’s weapon skills – a definite area for contention given the comments that arose during the last time I mentioned this. Before we begin, let me remind you where things stand.
The HD&D Skills System
All characters have 16 class skills, chosen from a list of around 30 favoured skills. Anything that isn’t a class skills is a cross-class skill. Every level a character gets eight skill points. It costs one skill point to put a class skill up by one rank, and two skill points to put up a cross-class skill by one rank. The maximum ranks you can have in any skill is half your level rounded up (one rank at first level).
Skill checks are made by rolling 1d20 and adding the relevent ability score modifier, the number of ranks you have in a skill and any other relevent bonuses (such as from your race or your selection of feats). All these bonuses added together give you your “skill modifier”. The average skill modifier for a first level character, in a skill immediately relevent to his profession, is +5.
Weapon skills work the same way as every other skill (something of a departure for D&D). However, every weapon in the game cannot be a separate skill, so instead I opted to divide the number of weapon skills available into broad categories such as Heavy Blades, Axes or Polearms.
However, there are still about thirteen of these weapon skills. Many of you thought that this unfairly penalised a fighter compared to a wizard who only has to get three different skills to be able to cast magic successfully. There are a number of reasons why I did this:
- In HD&D, the number of skills you get is dependent upon level and not on class. This is very important. If the number of skills varied from class to class then multiclassing could be used to cherry pick. If you wanted a lot of skills you’d make sure you took your first level in rogue and then multiclassed into fighter at level two. This happened all the time in third edition, and I want to get away from that.
- Spellcasters tend to be cerebral characters. They know a lot of stuff. I would argue that Knowledge skills are just as much part and parcel of a wizard or a cleric, than the skills they use to cast magic. There are a lot of knowledge skills. Spellcasters have to have the skill points available to get a good selection of them. This is not as important for the fighter.
- There aren’t actually that many other skills that are appropriate for fighters. Once you take away weapons, what’s left? Athletics, Swimming, Cimbing… there was a reason fighters got so few skill points in third edition. A lot of weapon skills help to pad out what would otherwise be a very limited skill selection for the fighter.
Now, you might thing that none of the above are very good reasons. Good! Tell me why you think that, and (even better) give me an alternative system. Remember, that the essence of HD&D is devolving things like skill points, hit points and the progression of powers and special abilities away from classes and making them dependent on your overall character level. The system can’t work if some classes get benefits outside the framework that has already been laid down.
So, with that in mind, I am going to use this post to decide the correct weapon groupings that can be turned into HD&D skills. Second, Third and Fourth editions have taken a stab at this, so we’re going to look at each one in turn and then try to come to a decision.
Second Edition: Skills and Powers
In 2nd edition all classes got a number of Weapon Proficiency slots, from which they could select their weapon skills. If characters tried to use a weapon they were not proficient in, then they took a penalty to hit. The penalty depended on your character class, with fighters taking a -2 penalty in weapons they were not proficient in.
The Player’s Option series of books (which Neil alluded to in his earlier comments on this blog) were the first to divide weapon proficiencies into weapon groups. They collected all weapons together into Tight Groups and Broad Groups.
Getting proficiency in a tight group of weapons (e.g. axes) cost 2 proficiency slots, but the character could use all the weapons in the tight group without penalty. Such characters were considered familiar with all the other weapons in the broad group (picks and hammers in the case of axes). Fighters only had a -1 penalty to hit with weapons they were familiar with.
Single-classed fighters (and only single-classed fighters) could spend 3 weapon proficiency slots and gain proficiency over all the weapons in a broad weapon group.
So, here is the complete list of the tight and broad weapon groups from Player’s Option: Skills and Powers. The broad groups are in bold, and the tight groups (where applicable) beneath in itallics.
Axes, Picks and Hammers
Clubs, Maces and Flails
Daggers and Knives
Spears and Javelins
Chain and Rope Weapons
Martial Art Weapons
Hand match weapons
Snaplocks and Flintlocks
It’s a bit off in places isn’t it? Why are spearlike polearms a different proficiency (in a different broad group no less!) to spears? In hind sight perhaps Skills and Powers was not as great as we remember it being. There’s some nice ideas in here, but the weapon groups were improved upon in the next edition.
Third edition: Unearthed Arcana
These optional rules from Unearthed Arcana replaced the standard weapon rules in my ongoing third edition campaigns. The full rules can be found online here. There were no tight or broad groups here, just weapon groups. This is the list:
- Basic Weapons
- Claw Weapons
- Druid Weapons
- Flails and Chains
- Heavy Blades
- Light Blades
- Maces and Clubs
- Monk Weapons
- Pick and Hammers
- Slings and Thrown Weapons
- Spears and Lances
In additional there were two groups for “exotic” weapons – the sort of weapons you had to spend feats on to master properly:
- Exotic Weapons
- Exotic Double-Weapons
The logic was that if you had the Exotic Weapons group, then you could use any exotic weapons in any other weapon group you knew, without penalty. It was a handy mechanic that stopped fighters having to spend all their feats on esoteric weapons just because they wanted to look cool.
What the third edition rules did was to give the option to specialise in a group of mechanically dissimilar weapons, that were thematically similar. A druid learning “Druid Weapons” became proficient in the club, dagger, dart, quarterstaff, scimitar, sickle, shortspear, sling and spear without having to learn the other groups separately.
Fourth Edition: Player’s Handbook 1
In fourth edition there are no rules for learning weapons in groups. The proficiencies you know are still a factor of your class (as it was in the core third edition rules). However, 4e still divides weapons into groups and lists those groups in PHB1. Here’s the fourth edition list:
- Heavy Blade
- Light Blade
There are less weapons available in fourth edition than in the previous two edition (and no whips) so the 4e list probably isn’t complete. The 4e list would count thrown daggers under Light Blade (they would have been in the Slings and Thrown Weapons group in third edition).
Two Options for HD&D
My instinct is to use the fourth edition list of weapon groups and tweak it slightly with my experience from past editions. Given the fact we are openly converting these weapons in to skills, I don’t think there is room for skill groups like Druid Weapons, Monk Weapons or Basic Weapons.
So our first option is to create broad weapon skills based around a certain type of weapons. I think that the list should look something like this:
- Flails and Chains (would include whips)
- Hammers and Picks
- Heavy Blade
- Light Blade
- Maces and Clubs (would include staffs)
- Polearms and Lances
Which gives us a list of twelve weapon skills. “Unarmed” is a catch-all term for punching and kicking. Monks and other martial artists would use the Unarmed skill as their primary means of attack. I’m still looking for a more suitable skill to key off things like Dragon Breath. I don’t want to create a unique skill for that sort of thing because of its narrow focus.
Of course, I could argue that supernatural attacks such as dragonbreath weren’t skills at all and automatically gained a bonus to hit of half your character level rounded up. That’s an option, I suppose.
The second option is to make the combat skills relate to the nature of the attack rather than the weapon itself. In that case the weapon skills would look more like this:
- Mêlée (Bludgeoning)
- Mêlée (Chopping)
- Mêlée (Piercing)
- Mêlée (Slashing)
- Projectiles (including crossbows)
Which reduces the skill list down to seven. Mêlée (Bludgeoning) is then probably the monk’s skill of choice. This is my least favourite of the two options. The skills seem too broad. Using the logic above, the monk is equally as good with the warhammer as he is at kicking someone in the face. Unless we include an eighth skill for Unarmed combat, of course.
Strength or Dexterity?
This is an old chestnut, but one I think that we need to lay to rest at this juncture. Traditionally in D&D, Strength gave a bonus to hit and to damage with mêlée weapons; Dexterity gave a bonus to hit but not to damage with ranged weapons.
Fourth edition equalised this somewhat. If you use a ranged weapon in fourth edition you gain a bonus to hit and to damage equal to your dexterity modifier. This balances the game, but doesn’t make an ounce of sense.
In third edition, you could take the feat Weapon Finesse which let you use your dexterity instead of your strength in light mêlée weapons such as short swords, rapiers and daggers.
HD&D has an advantage over previous editions in as far as we don’t have to rely on the same ability score modifier for something as broad as “mêlée” or “ranged” weapons. I say what we divide the weapon skills up. Some use Strength, some use Dexterity. Assuming that we keep the twelve weapon skills listed above, this is how I would divide them:
Strength to hit, Strength for damage
Axe, Hammers & Picks, Heavy Blade, Maces & Clubs, Lances & Polearms, Spears
Dexterity to hit, Strength for damage
Bow, Flails and Chains, Light Blade, Sling
Dexterity to hit, no modifier to damage
The disadvantage of this (if you can call it a disadvantage) is that fighters might find themselves valuing dexterity more than they used to. This may lessen the number of uber-fighters with Strength 20 at 1st level.
The move benefits classes that rely on their dexterity anyway. Rogues would find themselves to be very good with daggers and rapiers without needing to spend a feat for the privilege. However, they would still need a high strength to get a damage bonus on these weapons. And the sort of weapons that use Dexterity as a modifier to hit, tend to be the ones that deal less damage anyway. Rogues would remain behind fighters in the damage stakes (unless they used Sneak Attack, of course).
All the editions of D&D that I own have made some attempt to single out particular weapons as being very difficult to learn. In second edition you had to spend two weapon proficiency slos to master the bastard sword. In third edition some weapons were Exotic and you had to take a feat in order to use that weapon as well as similar weapons. Fourth edition took exactly, the same tack – only it called such weapons Superior and not Exotic. So what are we going to do in HD&D?
Initially, I’m going to do nothing. All weapons will have base statistics and properties that make some weapons more useful than others in certain circumstances. When I finish the weapon tables and post them to the blog you will see what I mean. However, no weapon is going to be singled out for rough treatment. A character with the Heavy Blades skill can use it to wield with the bastard sword with the same proficiency as the long sword.
My plan is that weapons that were marked as Exotic or Superior in previous editions can perform better in the hands of those who know how to use them. What this means in practice is that there will be a feat available to improve upon the weapon, making it more dangerous in the hands of certain characters.
These feats will only be available to martial characters. Obviously, they’ll be available to the fighter; but if the weapon is in the particular idiom of the ranger (bow), paladin (lance) or rogue (sap) then I would widen the availability. These are the sort of advantages that will make the fighter more of a force to be reckoned with.
My preferred system sets aside twelve different weapon skills (as listed above). Some have their attack rolls modified by the character’s Strength modifier and some by the character’s Dexterity modifier. However, damage is solely the province of strength – except on weapons like a crossbow where no such modifier applies.
Fighters and other martial characters can use their available Talents and Feats to augment their proficiency in a weapon. This augmentation may not take the form of an additional bonus to hit or damage, but may allow you to use the weapon in new and exciting ways.
Two feats demand a specific mention. Skill Focus adds +1 per five levels to your skill modifier. This applies to any skill, including weapon skills, and the feat is availanble to anyone.
Weapon Specialisation adds +1 per five levels to the damage of a specific type of weapon – not a weapon group. You could have Weapon Specialisation (longsword), not Weapon Specialisation (heavy blades). Weapon Specialisation can only be taken by certain martial classes.
Which I think about sums it up. This is how I see weapon skills being handled in HD&D. The actual damage weapons do, and their properties is the subject of another post.